TBT Recollections of a High School Counselor:”Test Anxiety: Testing 1-2-3″
I had one of my senior student in my office yesterday who came in under the guise of changing her schedule for the upcoming semester. After making the change I noticed she was slow in leaving so I figured there must be another reason that she was there. Rather than coming right out and asking if something was troubling her I decided to play the wait game and began talking about graduation and college plans. I couldn’t help but notice her apprehensiveness, she kept wringing her hands together as she spoke and would occasionally nibble at her thumb nail when I was speaking. As we spoke I pulled up her grades on my monitor and found that her grades though passing, were much lower than I had expected to find. She is an extremely bright student but the grades were not indicative of what she is capable of.
She must have sensed my concern because she immediately apologized for her grades and explained that she did well on all her assignments, but simply wasn’t a good test taker. She went on to say that she suffered from test-anxiety and with finals coming up next week was already feeling stressed. We spoke for awhile longer and I gave her a few tips on overcoming her fears. I also told her that if she needed to unwind between tests next week she was more than welcome to come by my office, for a little time-out. She said she would probably take advantage of my offer, then went on her way. I really hope she does, sometimes a little time-out works wonders.
Have you ever suffered from test anxiety? Ever get the jitters, sweaty palms, headaches or butterflies in your stomach before or during an exam? All are classic signs of test anxiety and can negatively affect your test scores. I knew a few people back in the day, smart people who just freaked when it came to taking tests. They used to say their minds would just go blank and they couldn’t remember a thing. It was strange. I was actually a pretty good test-taker. I never had a problem taking tests, even when I hadn’t really studied for them. I was just lucky I suppose or a good guesser! Now don’t get me wrong I’m not bragging, really, I didn’t ace those tests, sometimes I barely passed, but it sure beat failing!
As far as I’m concerned students take far too many tests today and too much emphasis is placed on those test scores. I don’t believe these tests are a true indicator of a students ability, what they really know or their readiness to advance. It simply isn’t a fair system of evaluation, some students truly suffer from test anxiety or are simply poor test takers. Something has needed to be done for quite some time and now it appears that at long last California is doing something about it.
The talking heads that oversee the Department of Education in Sacramento have finally seen the error of their ways and have announced a proposed reduction in the number of standardized test given to students across the state next year and a change in the manner in which these tests will be administered. The new changes will save the state a huge amount of money and bring testing into the twenty first century.
If the proposal passes we will see California’s standardized tests dropped at the second grade level and most high school tests would also be dropped. Testing for English and Math would continue for grades 3 through 8 and science would continue to be tested in grades 5, 8 and 10 as mandated by federal law. In addition the California High School Exam for Math and English will remain in place. The new testing procedure will also do away with the standard test packets that have been in use for decades, saving costs on tons of paper.
For the first time ever new state tests will be administered by computer (yeah, it’s about time) and the traditional multiple choice format will be removed, changing instead to a format that will test for understanding and problem solving abilities. And joy of all joys, test content will not be the same for everyone! Instead content will be matched to the individual student’s skill level which will give us a better measure of what a student really knows and may also help to relieve some of those test jitters.
Of course there are some drawbacks with the new changes, particularly in regards to teacher performance evaluations and the all important state Academic Performance Index, (API) which is the primary method of rating California schools and based entirely on test scores will need some tweaking, but I’m sure that the state will come up with a measurement tool that will utilize the new test results and give us an accurate rating of schools.
The changes proposed by the state are progressive and long over-due. Although they will require other changes to the current system of test and measurement it is well worth the effort. These changes are good for our children, It’s about time that we have a system in place that doesn’t pigeonhole students into only one category. Wouldn’t you like to find out what our students really know for a change? I know I would. Can you imagine classrooms across the state filled with students actually being educated and not being taught to the test? How great would that be? I tell you, lawmakers should not hesitate to approve this proposed testing plan, our students deserve it.
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